Alison Sluiter

Alison Sluiter (Bosnian Women – BOSFAM): Alison graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 2008 with a BS in Foreign Service. While at university she studied abroad in Warsaw and Berlin where she interned at the Blaetter fuer deutsche und internationale Politik, a German-language political journal. Alison returned to Berlin during her senior year with a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to conduct research for her thesis on the educational attainment levels of Turkish-German female students in Germany. During 2008 Alison worked at The Advocacy Project in Washington, where she helped to build the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt project and coordinate outreach. She also accompanied Beba Hadzic on a visit to Bosnian diaspora groups in St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Washington. After her fellowship in Bosnia, Alison wrote: “All the women of BOSFAM have been so welcoming and accepting - I feel like I have 10 new mothers."



Visiting Srebrenica

02 Jul

Beba, Kelsey, and I traveled to Srebrenica on a rainy Tuesday during my first week in Tuzla. After having spent such a long time thinking about Srebrenica and working with BOSFAM and other Bosniak Diaspora organizations, this was a painful, but important experience for me to have.

It is easy to spot the former front-lines of the conflict as you drive out of Tuzla. One moment, everything appears normal, but then you drive through a small tunnel and are once again faced with one bombed-out, burned-down house after another. It does not take long to get from Tuzla to the Federation/Republika Srpska (RS) border. As we passed the “Welcome to Republika Srpska” sign, Beba pointed out a small village on our left.

This was the first village to have minority returnees (Bosniaks) to the RS following the war’s end. Returning home was, and continues to be, a courageous thing to do, especially in this former no-man’s land. Beba told us that these women used to joke that their chickens could much more easily go back and forth between the Federation and RS than they could.

We were soon in Zvornik and could see Serbia on the other side of the Drina River. After having driven by countless ruined homes next to sparkling new, foreign-financed mosques and churches, I was surprised to see what appeared to be a very old minaret standing. This mosque was not destroyed because it is on the Serbian side of the Drina in Mali Zvornik. When Yugoslavia existed, Zvornik was connected to its sister-city across the river. Today, you need a passport, and sometimes even a visa, simply to cross the bridge to the other side.

A mosque in Serbia - across the Drina River from Zvornik, BiH

In Kravica we passed the agricultural cooperative warehouses where over one-thousand men and boys were killed on the afternoon of July 13th. Last year, when a group of women went to place flowers at the entrance to the warehouses, they were detained by RS police and prevented from doing so. The women will try once again to commemorate their deceased relatives this year, but whether or not they will be allowed by the police to enter the Kravica warehouses is unknown.

Potocari somehow snuck up on me. I thought we were still in Bratunac when all of sudden Beba told me to look to the right and not the left. I was looking to the left because I had spotted the old DutchBat UN barracks at the Potocari battery factory and figured we must be close. Thousands of white and green graves extended from only a few feet from the road all the way up the hillside. Over 500 more people whose remains have been identified will be buried at Potocari this July 11th.

A Monument at the Potocari-Srebrenica Memorial Center

A grave at Potocari for a 14 year-old victim of the genocide

It was easy to see that international attention focuses on Potocari on July 11th only – there were perhaps five other visitors at the memorial. We walked around for a bit reading the different names and birth years. In many places you could tell that a father and son were buried side by side. Sometimes there was a space between them and Beba told us this usually means that their is another family member, maybe another son, or a grandfather, whose remains have not yet been identified.

We left Srebrenica and went on to a much more pleasant activity – a visit to Magbula!

Magbula Divovic lives on the side of a lovely hill overlooking Potocari. I had heard many stories about her from Beba and Iain Guest (AP’s Executive Director) and was excited to meet her. What I did not know about Magbula was that she grows almost every kind of fruit I have ever seen in her garden. In addition to the normal coffee and some delicious cake, we were offered raspberries, blackberries, plums, and cherries!

From L to R: Magbula Divovic, Beba Hadzic, and Alison Sluiter

You can tell from the instant you meet Magbula that she’s a very energetic lady. She hardly sat the whole time as she animatedly told Beba about her relatives, a carpet for her granddaughter which she is working on, and a recent delegation of Croat women who came to visit Potocari. It was a pleasure for me to meet Magbula, and I hope that someday soon there will be a BOSFAM branch in Srebrenica so that she won’t be all alone while weaving.

It had begun to pour and so our tour of the town of Srebrenica was not as extensive as it normally would have been. Beba drove us around to the school where she used to the work and showed us the street she grew up on. As a former teacher, Beba remembers when Srebrenica was a lively place, full of children. As we drove up and down Srebrenica’s main street, the city appeared dead. This may have been mostly due to the weather, but when I think of the current differences between Tuzla and Srebrenica, it is easy for me to understand why so many IDPs would prefer not to return to their former homes.

Two houses in Srebrenica: 1 abandoned, 1 restored

We returned to Tuzla through the downpour. After hydroplaning at least three times, Beba told me not to worry – she used to drive a UN Land Rover around during the war. I told her that she could drive however she liked in a Land Rover, but that I would prefer not to end up in the Drina! Needless to say, we made it back to Tuzla alright. I am sure my next visit to Srebrenica – for the July 11th commemoration – will be very different. However, I think it was important to see Potocari, and the town of Srebrenica, as they are most days of the year – gray, empty, and I fear, forgotten.

Posted By Alison Sluiter

Posted Jul 2nd, 2009

118 Comments

  • Roy Moses

    July 2, 2009

     

    Alison, I applaud the work you have undertaken and even being so many miles away, my heart goes out to those many, many families that have been affected by that horrible genocide. I am convinced that you are the person that can help make a difference there. I’m sure that with your experience driving a VW Passat you would be able to handle those roads even in a pouring rain. I pray for your safety and happiness always. Love, Mr. Roy

  • Alison Sluiter

    July 2, 2009

     

    Hi Mr. Roy! Thanks for commenting on my post. Had I even learned to drive standard, I might be more of a driving help here. In any case, I hope you’ll be able to share my blogs with the less tech-savvy members of our church family!

  • Owen

    July 2, 2009

     

    Hello Alison, it was a bit of cheek leaving the link you-know-where but I’m delighted you did. Most of the time there we’re just running in the footsteps of the saboteurs and the pedants so it’s always nice to have a friendly contribution from someone on the side of the righteous!

    Good you had the visit to Magbula to relieve the experience of Potocari.

    I’m looking forward to more of your posts.

    Owen

  • Peter Sluiter

    July 2, 2009

     

    Hi Al,

    Finally got a chance to read your blog…sounds like you are happy and things are going well. Please tell Beba Mom & I say Hello! and that we truly appreciate everything she is doing for you. I hope you are actually able to make some sort of an impact and your work is/will be meaningful. In the meantime I will continue to look for your blog (which I find very interesting!!) and wish you good luck and good health. Not sure if we can come to visit, but would love to see you on your new turf! Love you and miss you.

    Dad xoxoxoxo

  • Teresa

    July 6, 2009

     

    Thanks for the great story of your visit to Srebrenica and the memorial. It has been a very long time since I was up that way last. Some things take a very long time to change. Will check back soon to read your post about the commemoration. Keep up the good work with Beba and crew.

  • Stephanie

    July 7, 2009

     

    Alison, thank you for bringing the places and people you are visiting alive for me. So many of the people I met throughout the Balkans are good, hardworking people who want peace. Keep bringing us their stories! Hvala!

  • MacKenzie

    July 8, 2009

     

    Alison-
    Please say hello to everyone for me. Although you have seen the memorial at Potocari, the ceremonies and burial on July 11 are overwhelming. The burials are heart wrenching as the caskets are passed along from person to person. Be sure to take a scarf to cover your head for prayers, some water, and be ready for an emotional, but amazingly important and forever life changing day. 4 years later I can still vividly recall the day I was there for the July 11 ceremony.

    Be well.

  • Antonia Rosenbau

    July 9, 2009

     

    Since my husband and I are returning to Tuzla after seven years, your postings are of much interest. We are going to teach for two weeks at the Tuzla Summer Institute, a project we have been working on for more than a year. It is a cooperative effort between Mufti Hussein Kavazovic, Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), and BILD in Tuzla (Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development), and SEEDS in Ithaca (South East Europe Development).

    http://bildbosnia.org/index.php?pr=Tuzla_Summer_Institute

    http://www.seeds-bih.org/index.php?pr=Home_Page

  • Owen

    July 12, 2009

     

    Hello Alison

    No need for publication of this comment.

    Can I suggest that instead of referring to the “Srebrenica massacre” you use the term “Srebrenica genocide” (as in “14th anniversary of …”).

    The massacre refers simply to the killings at Srebrenica devoid of context. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice – the highest fora of international law – have since determined that the killings constitute the crime of genocide.

    It would be interesting to know what your colleagues in Tuzla think about this issue – I don’t whether you noticed in passing through Wikipedia but it’s quite a contentious matter and some of the Bosniak commentators are understandably angry at the determined efforts being made to continue referring to the “massacre” rather than the “genocide”.

    I hope the visit to the commemoration ceremony wasn’t too distressing. It must have been a verye motional experience.

    All the best

    Owen

  • irma

    August 8, 2009

     

    I’ve so far been unable to find any useful travel information on Srebrenica. I intend to drive by car from Sarajevo. I too would hope to see the cemetery and the site of the massacre. Hopefully in the near future school children will be brought there just as they visit WWII concentration camps today. One not insignificant fact I would point out is that it was 8000 muslim men and boys who were massacred in the warehouses over those two days in July 1995 by Mladic and his men, not 1000. International news agencies reported this figure at the time and subsequent scientific analysis of the mass graves has supported this. I think it’s important not to under-estimate the monstrosity of the crime, by far the greatest single atrocity the world has witnessed in a generation. However thanks for the useful eyewitness account.
    Irma

    • Alison Sluiter

      August 9, 2009

       

      Hi Irma,

      Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, you are right that over 8,000 men and boys were killed in the Srebrenica genocide. However, I was making a reference to the warehouses in Kravica where over 1,000 people were murdered between July 11th and 13th, 1995 – this was just one incident within the scope of the genocide. If you are planning to visit Srebrenica, we would welcome you to stop in Tuzla visit BOSFAM! It might be a meaningful experience for you to meet some of the women who were affected first-hand by this tragedy. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like to come visit.

      Alison

  • irma

    August 9, 2009

     

    Hi Alison

    Thanks for explaining that point and thanks for the kind offer. It’s difficult for me to plan my trip in any detail as I expect I’ll find out what’s doable only when I get there. I much admire your work with victims’ relatives who receive little outside attention and if at all possible I will include Tuzla.

    Many thanks,
    Irma

  • Oliver Burch

    August 22, 2009

     

    Bless you Alison, the mosque in Mali Zvornik is not the only one in Serbia. There are in fact thousands. And many Muslims still live in Serbia as they did all through the religious wars in Bosnia. My own wife, as a Bosnian Mulslim from Mostar, went to Serbia as a refugee and was kindly treated in the early years of the war. When somebody tells you something, please check with another source before you relay the contention as fact.

    With best wishes

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